Artist Profile: Ralph van Raat Pt. 2

Collin: Do you compose music? If so can you describe your style?

Ralph: In fact I never had a big urge to compose music, as there are so many great composers out there, who have more to tell than I do in that respect. I have often thought what I would write if I would be a composer, but I had to conclude that it would be mostly a kind of mixture of all my favorite composers and pieces – some Messiaen, some Ives, some Debussy…However, as an instrumentalist, it is quite likely that one has some more pronounced ideas for a composition than for any other instrument; there are in fact quite a few pianists who do have composed for their own instrument, now and in the past, such as Glenn Gould, Arthur Rubinstein and Horowitz. However, also in these cases, in my opinion, the music sounds, in the first place, remarkably similar to the works by the composers they play as part of their concert repertoire.

That said – I have composed myself a few things, and during my conservatory studies, one work was actually performed at a concert of the composition department, after which I was encouraged to study composition. It strikes me that of the works I did compose (all were for piano solo), that without exception, they were in minor keys, and heavily influenced by the early and middle Scriabin especially, with some hints of Debussy and Chopin. Also I wrote a piece in memory of the great Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu, but thinking back of it, and although the pieces themselves are not bad I think, they are too much of an imitation.

I do realize that all great composers have started by imitating their great examples, and I think that as an instrumentalist, it is very useful to try composing – just to understand the process and the problems of composing to a greater extent (and ultimately, to perform other composer’s works better). However, I think that in order to seriously compose, one needs hard and serious work, and especially a lot of creativity and urge to add something really original of oneself to the enormous existing canon of great compositions.

Collin: What parts of the US would you like to visit? Do you have any venues that you dream about playing in?

Ralph: As a part of my studies in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, I studied with Ursula Oppens at Northwestern (Chicago) for almost a year. It was a wonderful period to which I think back very often. I was invited to be a fellow at the Tanglewood Music Center during two consecutive years at that time as well, and I would love to visit those places again, sniff the atmosphere (perhaps this is a Dutch expression) and see all my friends. During several holidays, I have been to California, Nevada, Arizona and New York, and also thsoe places grabbed me especially because of their natural beauty – the vastness of everything is unknown to us Dutchmen, and it would be something I would like to see and especially feel again. It seems to me that the works by someone as John Adams could only have been created in such environments; in a small, measured, rainy place such as The Netherlands, the mind simply seems not to have enough space to think of such a music style. But I have never been to Florida or Texas, for example, so there are still many places to discover.

Concerning my dream of a concert venue: of course there are many big halls in the US that any musician dreams of. I have attended a lot of concerts at Chicago’s Symphony Center during my studies, so this has a special place in my heart. But often, my mind has wandered to other thoughts. For example, wouldn’t it be great to perform Charles Ives’ legendary Concord Sonata at Walden Pond, in Henry David Thoreau’s cottage? The atmosphere, perhaps even the ‘vibes’ in such a place would certainly beat even the best concert hall in the world, even though the acoustics would probably not be the best ever. And when I let my thoughts go further, I could dream of playing Messiaen’s Des Canyons aux Étoiles (From the Canyons to the Stars), for piano and chamber orchestra, in the place where the composer found his inspiration: right inbetween the canyons of Bryce Canyon, at sunrise for example….A concert inbetween the half-constructed airplanes at Boeing Hall in Everett, Washington, is an even weirder phantasy, to which I would not say ‘no’…

Collin: What music do you buy? Do you have any current favorite recording right now?

Ralph: Sometimes I doubt whether I have a normal musical mind, as there are just so many types of music that I like. I have never understood why there is such a big ‘gap’ between what they call classical, contemporary, pop, world and jazz music. At the moment there is a CD of Coldplay in my car stereo – I must admit that I do not know pop music so well, but many contemporary composers mentioned it to me, and indeed it is good music. At the same time, I am again in a ‘minimal’ period. With me, my music interests go in recurring waves – few months ago I had one of those Scriabin periods, in which I listened to his music any time I was not practising myself. Now, there is Steve Reich in my CD-player in the living room. For some reason I always feel drawn to his music whenever I go travelling. My holidays are nearing quickly, and perhaps the pulse of his music sets my mind to the pulse of the many hours on the highway to come. Other music which is always close by is from Debussy and Keith Jarrett, to name a few. I have not so long ago discovered music by the German composer Hans Otte (1926-2007), who was a piano student of Walter Gieseking and a composition student of Paul Hindemith. He was absorbed by new music, but in his own music you always hear the sensuality of Gieseking’s hallmark: Debussy. In an original and haunting combination, you hear an almost perfect world of impressionism, minimalism, Eastern influences and even some hints of Romantic music.

….to be continued????

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